With normal life disrupted for so many of us this past year and a half, it is time to prioritize some of those 2021 goals — like finally writing your book. What if you could carve out just 15 minutes a day to write down ideas on the back of a cocktail napkin on what you want your book to be about?
Fifteen minutes can turn into 30, which can turn into an hour each day. Writing 500 words a day can turn into a 60,000-word manuscript at the end of about three and a half months (and a significant stack of napkins — which is the average size of a popular nonfiction or how-to book).
Or if you’re interested in test-driving your idea first in the form of a mini-book, you can have an e-book of 10,000 to 15,000 words to circulate to your target audience at the end of a month. One month, as in the time you would spend watching the fourth season of Ozark this fall.
But where and how do you begin to think about transforming your back-of-the-cocktail-napkin ideas into that shiny rectangular purveyor of wisdom? Here are five critical steps to take before you start writing your book to give yourself the best chance of not stalling out halfway through the process.
1. Clarify your goals around writing your book
Do you want this book to be a lead-generation tool for business? Or is it more about sharing your ideas and vision with a larger audience? Are you trying to make your mark on the speaking circuit?
A book is a natural companion to that venture without a doubt, as it’s useful for setting you up as a thought leader in your niche. Sure, you might become an Amazon bestseller with your book, but there’s more value to having a book than how many copies you sell.
2. Spend time thinking about book positioning
This refers to where the book lives in the minds of your reader. Who exactly is your reader? What problem are you going to solve for them with your book? And what are they going to get out of your book when they finish reading it?
Finally, it’s also useful to think about what other books are on the market or your local bookseller’s shelves that are like yours. How will yours be different?
3. Clearly define 3 audiences for your book
Identify your most likely audience — all the way down to education, economic level, gender and more. You get the idea. Then, do the same with a secondary and tertiary audience.
After this step, create a reader avatar, and keep this person in the forefront of your mind when you start writing. Imagine yourself sitting down with this person and chatting over a cup of coffee. This will help you achieve a conversational tone in your writing.
4. Outline before you begin writing
Trust me, don’t skip this step. You can thank me later. But don’t feel like you must think of outlining as a linear process. Think of it first as putting ideas on to cocktail napkins — one idea per napkin — and shuffle them around so you can figure out where they will live in the context of the whole narrative.
Consider what your reader takeaways will be for each chapter. You can also think of each chapter as having its own beginning, middle and end. Make sure to pepper your book with plenty of real-life examples, anecdotes and case studies. It also may be helpful to think of frequently asked questions, secrets, hacks and tips to share with your readers.
5. Set yourself up for success by working on your book every day
Write at the same time of day — even just for a little bit. Showing up every day at the same time helps prime your brain to get into writing mode. It also keeps a flow going with your writing. When you stop and start haphazardly over time, it becomes difficult to keep a thread of concentration going.
If you find yourself struggling with writer’s block, use voice memos on your phone or the Otter.ai app, and talk your ideas and your narrative out loud. This uses a different part of your brain and can circumvent blocks. Otter will then create a transcript for you (the Dragon Anywhere app does this too), which you can then easily import to your favorite word processor.
Follow these steps, and you will be well on your way to writing and finishing your book this year.
Holly Hudson is a ghostwriter, editor and book coach at 82 Stories in London, U.K., and Cincinnati, Ohio. Connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn.